The 9th Summit of Heads of State and/or Government of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) convenes in Antigua, Guatemala, on May 12, 2023. The Summit is preceded by an international cooperation conference, a business summit and an ordinary meeting of the Ministerial Council.
The Convention Establishing the ACS was signed on 24th July 1994 in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. The aim of the Organisation is to promote consultation, cooperation and concerted action among all the countries of the Caribbean, comprising 25 Member States and three Associate Members. The focal areas of the ACS include disaster risk reduction, trade, sustainable tourism, transport, cooperation and resource mobilisation and preservation and conservation of the Caribbean Sea.
Apart from all independent Member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the ACS also includes amongst its membership countries not typically considered to be Caribbean such as Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. These are all washed by the Caribbean Sea.
In 1993, the Report of the West Indian Commission looking to the Caribbean in the 21st Century was published. The Report was titled “Time for Action” and it represented a clarion call for the Caribbean to deepen and widen its integration processes.
The Commission’s Report noted that the structures of unity in the Caribbean must not constitute a prison but should instead have windows on the wider world and pathways that lead outward.” The Report also stated that a feature and legacy of Caribbean countries is that they “multiple entry points to the world.”
Elements of those entry points currently include the Caribbean’s special relationships with Canada and the United States (US). In the area of trade for instance, both countries provide preferential access to their markets for the majority of CARICOM countries. Of course, the vexing issue of the US embargo on Cuba continues to be a blot on the region’s overall relationship with the US.
Through the comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement as well as the new Partnership Agreement with the European Union (EU), several Caribbean countries have an entry point to Europe touch on areas such as trade, democracy and climate change. The Commonwealth provides an entry point for the English-speaking
Caribbean to dozens of countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific.
Here, they pursue political links and many areas of functional cooperation.
In the Americas, the Organization of American States (OAS) provides a useful entry point for Caribbean countries to this part of the world. The ACS also constitutes another entry point to the Americas.
Since the Report of the West Indian Commission was tabled three decades ago, the world has gone through many highs and lows. A high-water mark during this period was certainly the rapid rise of globalisation. This resulted in many countries integrating further into the global economy.
The Report was also issued shortly after the end of the bi-polar world order which brought about a brief period of geopolitical stability. This stability was upended after the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001, and subsequent US military misadventures in the Middle East.
Today, Caribbean countries face arguably an even more turbulent world. The climate crisis, geopolitical contests between the West and Russia and the West and China, as well as backsliding on globalisation present many challenges, especially for the smallest.
Present day realities suggest that deepening and widening integration processes in the Caribbean remain relevant. The ACS might be the least well-known of the various integration arrangements which Caribbean countries are involved in, nonetheless it is a vital cog.
One can even argue that the ACS has punched below its weight since its establishment.
However, it can still serve as a useful platform for the Greater Caribbean Region to both strengthen their ties and engage with the rest of the world.
Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.
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